The phrase “LGBTQ+ authors” often summons to mind the same few names: Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, or even Emily Dickinson. Yet, there are so many other writers that deserve the same recognition! Here are five of the most interesting historical LGBTQ+ authors to add to your bookshelf.
Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989)
Daphne du Maurier is an alluring author mostly because she didn’t spend much time in the public eye. A widow to a British Lieutenant General, she kept a lot of things to herself. Her own children didn’t know her title of Dame until it was mentioned in a newspaper. However, friends remembered her as amiable and hospitable, often hosting in her home in Cornwall.
Following du Maurier’s death, rumors of her suspected relationships rose in conversation. Yet, nothing was confirmed. In 1993, Margaret Forster, a friend of the family, wrote a biography about du Maurier that highlighted her struggles with accepting her sexuality and gender identity.
She recognized both her masculinity and femininity. She considered herself a traditional wife and mother but also more of a masculine lover. In her memoirs, du Maurier admitted to wanting to have been born a boy. Unfortunately, du Maurier held onto internalized homophobia, causing her to deny her bisexuality and live in repression of her authentic self. Arguably her most famous novel, Rebecca, touches on topics like identity, grief, and class and is considered a classic in the Gothic genre, with many modern shows, books, and music alluding to her characters and story.
Jean Genet (1910-1986)
Here’s a man with a diverse bibliography! Genet wrote numerous novels, poems, essays, and plays, often concerning themes of homosexuality and crime. Growing up with a foster family, Genet accumulated various misdemeanor charges. In his later teen years, he was detained and forced to join the French Army. He was discharged after being caught involved in homosexual activity, and when he returned to Paris, he spent a lot of time in prison.
Genet’s works range from autobiographical accounts of his time as a vagabond to political plays. Later in life, he became very politically active, fighting against police brutality and the treatment of immigrants in France. All of his work drew attention to the lives of outcasts, whether it was based on class or sexuality. Genet was also a significant figure in The Theatre of the Absurd literary movement, which focuses on discussions of existentialism.
One of his most famous novels, The Thief’s Journal, details his experience living in 1930s Europe. It follows the narrator through his various homosexual affairs and time as a prostitute, creating a new concept of saintliness by connecting thieves to monks.
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)
An orphan from a young age, Bishop spent most of her childhood moving between family and studying English at school. Her poetry started to be published during her senior year of high school and would continue past her death, always regarded with praise. However, she didn’t publish very often, contradicting her status as a notable American poet.
Her father left her a large inheritance, allowing Bishop to travel a lot throughout her life, spending her 20s in France and later on, she spent 15 years in Brazil. She recounted her travels in her poetry, with a major relationship with Lota de Macedo Soares also portrayed in the 2013 film Reaching for the Moon. Despite her poetry being inspired by her real-life experiences, the narrative style was often pulled back, wanting her work to not be directly or obviously autobiographical. She didn’t want her work to be judged based on the author; she didn’t want the fact of her being a woman or a lesbian to reflect how critics viewed the quality of the writing.
Bishop won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1956 and, after her death in 1979, she was elected to the New York Writers Hall of Fame in 2010. Her impact was tremendous and immediate; her later life was spent teaching at various universities.
Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975)
There is a chance you’ve heard this name before, but maybe not for his writing. Pasolini had an early love for poetry and literature that was inspired by the natural beauty of his home in Italy, which he left when he was about nine. At 20 years old, his first publishings were well received, yet opposing political views with his director led him to leave his first editorial position. As World War II dominated, politics were a constant force throughout Pasolini’s early life and he is remembered for his outspoken beliefs and affiliations.
Pasolini’s writings include novels, poetry, essays, and films. Most of his work, no matter the medium, followed a neorealistic genre that focused more on the negative aspects of life. Additionally, he was very keen on discussing sexual behaviors, prompting more negative reviews from the public. The content he wrote contradicted his actions in public which were more obscene and controversial, partly because they were homosexual activities. One of his documentaries, Love Meetings, includes interviews with people from different socioeconomic standings where Pasolini asks them various questions about sex.
Yet, the most fascinating aspect of Pasolini’s legacy is his death. He was not afraid to talk about taboo topics and get involved with politics. However, in 1975, Pasolini was murdered, possibly assassinated by mafia members who disagreed with his political views. His death is a famous unsolved case that has been the center of countless documentaries.
Lída Merlínová (1906-1988)
Last but certainly not least, the first Czech author to write a lesbian novel! Lída Merlínová started working in opera and only began writing after she got married. Interestingly, her marriage to the composer of the opera was only out of convenience.
Her work was praised to no end, and her strong female characters were inspirational to her young readers. She didn’t shy away from addressing issues like LGBTQ+ rights, and she also wrote a biography about a transgender male athlete. Her books were banned during the Communist reign of Czechoslovakia, leaving her work largely forgotten. Fortunately, she is now remembered and acclaimed for her work advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and overall heavily contributing to Czech literature. Currently, she is often included in academic studies surrounding gender and sexuality in Eastern Europe.
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